UK government publishes policy paper on tackling ‘obesity time bomb’

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages
Pic: GettyImages

Related tags health & wellbeing Obesity Snack

New legislation including ban on TV advertisements for HFSS food before 9pm – and a complete ban on online adverts - is being considered by ministers as study reveals fresh evidence between obesity and risk of catching COVID-19.

The UK government is set to introduce sweeping new measures banning unhealthy food adverts with new laws that will ban the advertising of food high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) on television and online before 9pm when children are most likely to see them.

With fresh evidence of a link to an increased risk from COVID-19 in overweight adults​, the government said the urgency of “tackling the obesity time bomb has been brought to the fore​”.

The government has also announced it will hold a new short consultation on whether the ban on online adverts for HFSS, should apply at all times of day.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We know obesity increases the risk of serious illness and death from coronavirus - so it’s vital we take action on obesity to protect the NHS and improve our nation’s health​”.

Health crisis

Obesity is one of the biggest health crises in the UK. According to the government, almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the National Health Service £6bn ($7.9bn) a year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was in hospital intensive care with coronavirus in April, said he was convinced that he fell ill because he was overweight.

Losing weight is hard but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier​,” he said. “If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus ­- as well as taking pressure off the NHS​.”

Rather than focusing primarily on childhood obesity, the new government strategy represents a new focus on empowering adults to lose weight as well.

This plan is being launched alongside a new ‘Better Health’ campaign, led by Public Health England (PHE), which will call on people to embrace a healthier lifestyle and to lose weight if they need to, supported by a range of evidence-based tools and apps providing advice on how to reduce the waistline.

Front-of-pack labelling

Along with the ban on advertising, another option for the government is front-of-pack nutritional labelling.

It says it will launch a consultation to gather views and evidence on its current ‘traffic light’ labelling system to learn more about how this is being used by consumers and industry, compared to international examples.

The government said its ‘traffic light’ scheme is popular, with 90% of consumers agreeing it helps them make informed decisions when purchasing food. Research shows that people who look at front of pack nutritional labelling are shown to have healthier shopping baskets, fewer calories, less sugar, fat and salt content and higher fibre content.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, told ConfectioneryNews: “These plans are ambitious and rightly so. Tackling obesity will help prevent serious illness and save lives.

“These bold measures will help us tip the scales on obesity. The argument for action is the clearest it’s ever been.

“The environment we live in plays a significant role in tackling obesity: the information they are given to make those choices, the choices we are offered, and the influences that shape those choices. This will support individual choice and give families a fairer chance to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.”

  • The government’s policy paper - Tackling obesity: government strategy​ - sets out the actions Parliament will take to tackle obesity and help adults and children to live healthier lives.

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